Is Tom Brady’s visit to San Francisco on Sunday simply a playoff preview or a preview of his future destination?
The 45-year-old Brady, whose Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the 49ers in Week 14, will once again be the story of the NFL offseason on multiple fronts. Will he finally retire and go about paying attention to his personal life, which has taken a hit this year with his very public divorce from former wife Gisele Bundchen?
Will he continue to play? Brady is set to be a free agent after the season and can’t be franchised by Tampa Bay. If Brady chooses to play again, will that be with the Buccaneers or some other team?
If Tom Brady goes elsewhere, expect the 49ers to be intrigued. Two general managers said last week they expect the 49ers to seriously inquire about Brady and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers depending on whether either or both of those quarterbacks decide to move on.
“The Brady scenario is easy, he’s free,” one GM said. “Rodgers has more moving parts because you don’t know what kind of Zen thought he’s going to have. He might say he wants out. I could also see the Packers moving on to Jordan Love if they can figure out the cap situation.
“But everybody knows the 49ers need a quarterback to win now.”
Tom Brady’s Future: Definitely Not New England
Last week, one New England reporter speculated that the Patriots might try to bring back Brady.
“I don’t think he has any idea what he wants to do other than focus on what is here and now,” said a person close to Brady. “That’s all he has been doing for the past five months and I don’t know what his state of mind is going to be when he finally takes a breath.”
About the only thing that the person close to Brady said with any definitive sense is that Brady would not go back to the Patriots. He estimated the chances at “1,000 percent” that Brady wouldn’t return to New England. Not because of personal feelings toward anyone in the organization, but just the sense that there’s no way the Patriots could recreate what they had.
The 49ers, the team Tom Brady grew up rooting for as a kid growing up in nearby San Mateo, and Tampa Bay are division leaders seemingly headed for the postseason. However, the 49ers are obviously in a state of flux at quarterback.
It’s not simply that they are down to rookie Brock Purdy as the starter. Injured starter Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to leave as a free agent. Trey Lance, who is also out for the season with a broken leg, was the No. 3 overall pick in 2021, but has not yet played consistently in the NFL and has not played a full season since 2019 in college.
Beyond that, people both inside and outside the organization believe that the 49ers have a limited shelf life remaining for several key players such as tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel. That’s on top of the growing list of injuries for defensive end Nick Bosa.
“That roster has been really great for four years,” the second GM said. “If it ends up that they only get to one Super Bowl with that group, it’s going to haunt (coach) Kyle (Shanahan) and (owner) Jed (York). They’re going to be desperate for a quarterback this offseason. That’s how I see it.”
Football As The Great Distraction
While Brady has tried to remain his upbeat self in public, the breakup with Bundchen took both a mental and physical toll. He lost 27 pounds at one point prior to the season, accounting for photos where he looked gaunt. During his time away from the team in training camp, when the public and the media played guessing games about where he was, the answer was simpler than anyone really understood.
He was nowhere, figuratively. Friends say that Brady was so down about the loss of his marriage that he literally had trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
“That’s as down as I have ever seen him,” said one college friend. “He was hurt, he was upset because of what it meant to the kids. Everything. To be honest, football has been a great distraction just to get his mind off all the crap.”
Does that mean Tom Brady continues to play as a way to escape the pain? Does it mean that he changes teams if he does play. Both of the close friends said there was no way to gauge other than to say that rebuilding the culture of a team is not easy and Brady might not be up for doing that again.
Then again, the talent on the 49ers, particularly on defense, might be enough to convince him.